ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 02

Canning the rugby worms

By Harry Jayachandra

As is common knowledge schools rugby has almost hit rock bottom in many ways. From a cluttered season to numerous court battles, there was more action off the pitch than on it. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back happened when referee Pradeep Fernando was allegedly assaulted in the dressing room by Sri Lanka Sevens Captain Chamara Vithanage. From the beginning of the season many have called for the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) to intervene. But it did not happen until last Thursday.

Rugby boss Nimal Lewke stresses a point – Pic by Ranjith Perera.

The Sunday Times spoke the President of the SLRFU Nimal Lewke. He said: “We received many requests to intervene, but I did not want to barge in. We asked the hierarchy of the association to come for a meeting, but they did not do so citing lack of time. When you are an elected member of a sports body, you have to find the time. As you know I am the Commandant of the STF, but I still find the time to do my duties for the SLRFU. Furthermore the President of the Country His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksha finds the time to discuss the development of rugby with me. After Vithanage incident I spoke to the Minister of Education and he in turn asked the Director of sports to get the schools officials to come for a meeting. Until then the officials seemed to be running away. I think they fled because they came under the Ministry of Education and we were unnecessary, completely forgetting the fact that we are the parent body for rugby in this country.”

He added: “With regard to Vithanage, we asked him to come for a Disciplinary Committee hearing last week. But he sent a medical instead. The next hearing is scheduled for Wednesday. I spoke to Fernando when he was in hospital. Fernando personally told me he had seen Vithanage with a bandage on his hand approaching with some other people. Fernando added that he had not seen any malicious intent otherwise he would have turned round and run. He also said Vithanage had hit him and he did not know who else had assaulted him as he was protecting his face. He positively identified Vithanage as his first assailant. The two touch judges including one from Kandy have also identified Vithanage. Pending the hearing he has been temporarily suspended by the Disciplinary Committee. It must also be stated that Disciplinary Committee does not need council approval to suspend a player for less than a month. I managed to mediate with the referees and schools officials. But from now on the host school will have to give the referee a document certifying his safety before the game. If the official does not receive this certificate, he will not referee the game. This rule will be implemented at club level in the near future.”It has been well documented that the schools season was held up by numerous court cases and that continues to be the case. When asked Lewke said: “The Court upholds the law of the land and one must respect that. But I do not believe that for every matter people should go to Court. There is an association to deal with such matters. In addition this a recreation sport. Going to court should be the last resort. All these matters that went to court could have been resolved at the association level. Now a school like Isipatana has to wait on a decision from Court before resuming their season.”

Injured Pradeep Fernando: Should the referees always be the victims of circumstances?
Pic by Shane Seneviratne.

When asked about Kingswood fielding a player who had been sent off Lewke said: “If the player concerned was sent for technical fouls the decision can be reviewed. But if they were of a violent nature then the player must be punished. A lot of people misunderstand the reason for a punishment. The schools feed the national team. If a player gets away with such offences at school level, he will obviously try it at a higher level. Then the consequences could be much greater. Thus a punishment at this level is good for the player because he learns discipline and also realizes that only through dedication can he go up the ladder.”

Schools association officials finally met up with Lewke and his team on Thursday. Lewke said:

“Our lawyers will be working with the association lawyers to solve these legal problems. Pending the Court decision tomorrow, we will also help them with the running of the rest of the tournament. We also informed them that we would be taking charge of the under 19 squad for the Youth Asiad. We are also planning on bringing two foreign teams for warm up matches before we go for the tournament.”

In conclusion Lewke said: “The host nation for this year’s Youth Asiad is South Korea, but weather conditions in December are not suitable for rugby. There are some who wanted the tournament postponed. But in my capacity as President of the Asian Rugby Football Union I pointed out that many players would be illegible. As a result the tournament will held as scheduled in December probably in Brunei.”

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.